The Madrigal Composer John Farmer: Part Three of No. 37 of 100 Reasons Why the Earl of Oxford = “Shakespeare”

To shallow rivers, to whose falls/ Melodious birds sing madrigals!

– Song in The Merry Wives of Windsor (3.1) by Shakespeare

The celebrated madrigalist John Farmer dedicated his most important work, The First Set of English Madrigals of 1599, to “my very good Lord and Master, Edward Devere Earle of Oxenford,” praising his “judgment in Musicke” and declaring that “using this science as a recreation, your Lordship have over-gone most of them that make it a profession.”

John Farmer (c. 1570 - 1601)

This is high praise indeed for Oxford, to whom Farmer had also dedicated his previous work, Plainsong Diverse & Sundry of 1591, telling the earl he presented it to him because he knew “your Lordship’s great affection to this noble science.”

“Nothing is more astonishing in the whole history of music than the story of the English school of madrigal composers,” writes Dr. Michael Delahoyde of Washington State University, noting that the adapter of a key publication First Sett of Italian Madrigals Englished in 1590 was Thomas Watson, who had dedicated his 100-sonnet sequence Hekatompathia: or Passionate Century of Love in 1582 to Edward de Vere, his patron.

Inserted in that song-book [title page at left] are “two excellent Madrigalls of Master William Byrd, composed after the Italian vaine, at the request of the sayd Thomas Watson.”   So we have Oxford connected personally and professionally to Farmer, Byrd and Watson, not to mention his company of musicians and the fact that his many youthful poems turn out to be lyrics for songs.  It would appear that he was a driving force, or even the driving force, behind the sudden rise of the entire English Madrigal School.

Farmer has the distinction of composing one of the most popular and fun pieces of the period, the madrigal Fair Phyliss I Saw Sitting All Alone, telling the story of the shepherdess Phyllis and her lover, who searches the hills before finding her:

What does all this have to do with Oxford as Shakespeare?  Well, the point is that he was an expert in the musical field, just as “Shakespeare” shows himself to be — although orthodox scholars, well aware that the man William Shakspere of Stratford was no such expert, tend to play down or ignore the actual contents of “Shakespeare” works in that regard.  The only way to maintain that the Stratford man was the Greatest Writer of the English Language is to keep “dumbing down” the works themselves!

Elizabethan Musical Instruments

Well, he was an expert in the musical field, as the Earl of Oxford was an expert.  In Shakespeare’s England (1916) we are given the honest truth that “in no author are musical allusions more frequent than in Shakespeare,” whose musical terms include:

Accord, Air, Anthem, A-re, Bagpipe, Bass, Base, Bass viol, Bear a part, Breast, Broken, Broken Music, Burden (Burthen), Cadence, Carol, Catch, Chant, Chittern (Cithern), Clef, Cliff, Close, Compass, Concent, Concert, Consort, Concord, Cornet, Crotchet, Cymbols, Dead March, Descant, Diapason, Discord, Division, Drone, Drum, D-sol-re, Dulcimer, Ear, E-la-mi, Fa, False, Fancy, Fiddle, Fiddler, Fiddlestick, Fife, Fingering, Fit, Flat, Flute, Fret, Gamut, Good-night, Govern, Government, Ground, Harmony, Harp, Hautboy, Holding, Hornpipe, Hymn, Instrument, Jack, Jar, Kettle(drum), Key, Knock it, La, Lesson, Lute, Madrigal, March, Mean, Measure, Mi, Minim, Mode, Mood, Music, Musician, Noise, Note, Organ-pipe, Part, Peg, Pipe, Plain-song, Play, Point, Prick-song, Proportion, Psaltery, Re, Rebeck, Record, Recorder, Reed-voice, Relish, Rest, Round, Sackbut, Scale, Sennet, Set, Sharp, Singing-man, Sol, Sol-fa, Soundpost, Speak, Still Music, Stop, Strain, String, Strung, Tabor, Tabourine, Three-man-song, Time, Tongs, Touch, Treble, Triplex, Troll, Trump, Trumpet, Tucket, Tune (melody), Tune (to adust tone), Ut, Ventages, Viol, Viol da gamba, Virginals, Virginalling, Wind, Wind up, Wrest… 

All these terms, and more, appear in the Shakespeare works. They are often technical, always accurate.  They come bursting freely and spontaneously from the pen of the poet-dramatist, flowing from his very being, and never inserted as information from research.  The terms come cascading forth not to instruct or impress or do anything other than lend greater power, beauty, humor and meaning to a character’s speech of the moment, mostly by way of metaphor: “What, to make thee an instrument and play false strains upon thee?  Not to be endured!”As You Like It (4.3)

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